David Cameron suffered a stinging Commons defeat over Europe as Conservative backbenchers told him he must deliver real reductions in the European Union budget.
The defeat came after more than 50 Conservative rebels were joined by Labour MPs in supporting a demand for real-terms reductions in spending by Brussels. The Government was defeated by 307 votes to 294, a majority of 13. Commons sources estimated that 51 Tories voted against the Government, with two more acting as tellers.
The vote was Mr Cameron’s second major Commons defeat over Europe and led to warnings that division in the Conservative Party over Europe could hamstring him as it did Sir John Major during the 1990s. The vote is not binding, but will put Mr Cameron under intense pressure to take a harder line in talks on the EU budget at a summit in Brussels later this month.
Mr Cameron had already promised to veto any significant rise in EU spending and Downing Street last night promised to “take note” of the vote in the coming budget negotiations.
Some Conservative MPs said the vote could strengthen Mr Cameron’s hand in the budget talks, but aides fear the result could create a significant political problem for Mr Cameron.
Government sources insist that it is effectively impossible for Mr Cameron to deliver a cut in EU spending because so many other members want an increase.